FANS protesting against the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football act at the SNP conference were hit with a restraining order “as soon as they stepped off the bus”, it has been claimed.
Up to 25 campaigners waved banners and chanted songs condemning the act that they believe criminalises football supporters as Nationalist delegates held their spring conference at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre yesterday.
The legislation, designed to eradicate religious bigotry from the terraces, has been criticised for being too vague, while Celtic and Rangers supporters believe that they are being unfairly targeted.
Organised by the Fans Against Criminalisation group, protesters held aloft banners urging the Scottish Government to “Axe The Act” and reportedly sang “SS SNP” in reference to the paramilitary organisation linked to the Nazi party in Germany.
Police Scotland confirmed that restrictions on the protest had been enforced under Section 12 of Public Order Act at around 2pm. The order gives officers powers to constrain the route of a procession or prevent it from entering a public place. It has been claimed protesters were barred from entering a nearby McDonald’s restaurant as a result.
Labour MSP Michael McMahon, an arch critic of the legislation, said the heavy-handed police approach exemplified both the judiciary and SNP’s attitude towards football fans, who were “assumed to be criminals”.
He said: “Protesting is part of the democratic process and should take place at conferences. At the last Labour conference, there were Yes campaigners as well as a group complaining about a closure. There was no need for the police to get involved and, from what I hear, the protestors were served a notice as soon as they stepped off the bus.
“Police officers should respond to any activity that is not acceptable; the very fact they didn’t even wait to see if there was trouble emphasises the point fans were trying to make.”
McMahon, who represents Uddingston and Bellshill, branded the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act “bad law” and said the issuing of the section 12 order “proved how police view football fans”. Following the protest, a representative for Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC), tweeted: “Well done to the FAC volunteers who stood up to the SNP and the petty harassment of Police Scotland today. It’s time to #AxeTheAct.”
A tweet from the Celtic Trust read: “I think it is fair to say that the delegates heard us! Now getting police escort out of town! #SNPShameonYou #FAC #AxeTheAct”
Yesterday’s Aberdeen protest is the latest in a string of actions by Fans Against Criminalisation, which is calling for the bill to be scrapped.